Objective: Previous axonal excitability studies in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have suggested that impaired potassium channel function could be responsible for the generation of fasciculations, but the ectopic activity arises predominantly from the motor nerve terminals. This study tested the hypothesis that dysfunction of potassium channels is more pronounced in the more distal parts of axons.
Methods: Threshold electrotonus was used to compare accommodation at the motor point of abductor pollicis brevis, and at the wrist portion of the median nerve, between 22 patients with ALS and 19 normal subjects. As target responses for motor point stimulation, movement-related potentials were recorded using an accelerometer.
Results: Compared to normal subjects, ALS patients showed greater threshold changes to depolarizing conditioning currents at both the motor point and wrist, suggesting less accommodation by potassium currents. Differences in the threshold electrotonus curves between the normal and ALS groups were much more prominent at the motor point than at the wrist.
Conclusions: In ALS, axonal potassium channels are impaired more prominently in distal portions of axons than at the nerve trunk, and this is consistent with evidence that fasciculations mostly arise from the nerve terminals.
Significance: Excitability testing at the motor point provides additional information about the pathophysiology of ALS.